KUALA LUMPUR, (AP) – Asian Cup champion Australia was drawn into a far-flung qualifying group Tuesday to start a long journey toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Australia will play Jordan, a 12,000-kilometer (7,500-mile) trip, plus Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and its nearest opponent Bangladesh, a 7,000-kilometer (4,350-mile) journey, in the 40-team first group stage.
Japan was grouped with Syria, Afghanistan, Singapore and Cambodia. For security reasons, FIFA has ruled that Syria and Afghanistan will play home matches in neutral countries.
The Asian Football Confederation drew eight five-team groups which will play matches from June to March.
Group winners and the four best runners-up advance to the next group stage.
Bhutan, a surprise winner in the first Asian qualifying round, was grouped with China, 2022 World Cup host Qatar, Maldives and Hong Kong. Iran, the top-ranked Asian confederation team in FIFA’s rankings, will play Oman, India, Turkmenistan and Guam.
South Korea, seeking to play at a ninth straight World Cup, was grouped with Kuwait, Lebanon, Myanmar, and Laos.
FIFA previously barred Myanmar from hosting matches after crowd disorder during a 2014 World Cup qualifying match.
Iraq and Yemen will also play home matches on neutral territory because of security issues.
Iraq is top-seeded in a group with Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan. Yemen will play top-seeded Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Philippines and North Korea.
United Arab Emirates, the 2019 Asian Cup host, was grouped with Saudi Arabia, Palestine, East Timor and Malaysia.
Asia’s allocation of places in the 2018 lineup should be confirmed at a meeting of FIFA’s executive committee on May 30.
Four guaranteed places at the 32-team 2014 World Cup were taken by Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea. No Asian team won a match in Brazil.
A fifth place was available in an intercontinental playoff but Jordan lost to Uruguay.